ShopMate is a freight-forwarding service run by Australia Post that solves a common online shopping problem. In short, it sets up a US postal address so that you can buy items that don't ship internationally. Purchases are then forwarded onto you for a "small" fee. It sounds great on paper, but is it actually worth the money? Well, that all depends on what you're buying.
Unless you have American relatives, freight-forwarding services are one of the only ways to purchase goods that only ship to US addresses. Even after exchange rates and service fees are taken into account, the total price can still be significantly cheaper than buying locally. (Thanks, Australia tax.)
Whether you're trying to save a few bucks on a shiny new gadget or require something that isn't sold over here, ShopMate is an easy solution. You simply set up a free account and begin shopping online. You now have a legitimate US address to use at checkout for sites that don't ship to Australia.
When the packages arrive at the ShopMate warehouse, you declare them, pay the shipping costs and wait for them to arrive in Australia. This usually takes around six to seven working days, although delays are not uncommon during the peak Christmas period. If you're buying gifts, allow an extra week to be on the safe side.
The chief advantage of ShopMate is customer service. You can track deliveries through your Australia Post account and speak to a ShopMate representative if something goes wrong. By contrast, US-based forwarding services operate in completely different time zones which can make them difficult to contact - if they have a phone number at all.
So how much does ShopMate cost and is the service worth the money? As you'd expect, that all depends on the size of the item in question. International shipping rates are $22.95 per parcel, plus $4.95 per 500g. (The latter is calculated based on the cubic weight of your parcel.)
This can get quite expensive if you're shipping bulky packages or multiple purchases at once. There are also weight and size restrictions, which rules out very large items.
Here are some package dimension calculations as they appear on Australia Post's website:
|Example product||Base rate (AUD)||Weight rate (AUD)||Total (AUD)|
|Women's shoes (1.5kg)||$22.95||$14.85||$37.80|
|Women’s handbag (2kg)||$22.95||$19.80||$42.75|
As you can see, the ShopMate fees are quite hefty - if you're just trying to avoid the so-called 'Australia Tax', the cost of shipping combined with ShopMate's base rate of $22.95 will likely knock out any savings. A single book or Blu-ray would almost certainly not be worth it.
Likewise, oddly shaped or bulky items can be surprisingly expensive to ship even if they're relatively light. This is due to ShopMate's cubic weight formula which takes the height, length and width of packages into consideration.
With that said, you could still end up slightly better off for things that tend to be marked up extravagantly in Australia, such as flagship gadgets and collectibles. There's also a bundling discount of $10 per parcel for goods that arrive and are paid for on the same day.
ShopMate will repack parcels for a $5 fee, which is a handy way of reducing the cubic weight if there's lots of excess space in the original parcel. However, this option is only available if the original parcel contained no branding. Annoyingly, this rules out most shoe boxes. The difference in cubic weight also needs to be greater than 2kg.
All in all, ShopMate is worth considering if you require US goods that are not readily available in Australia and don't require bulky packing. As a way to dodge expensive local pricing, it's unfortunately less reliable.
Consumer watchdog Choice has an excellent review of the service, complete with comparisons to a range of US-based rivals. You can find it here.